Last week, a video titled “People who shouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton” popped up a couple times in my Facebook feed. The list included “Black People,” “Young People,” “Liberals,” “People who don’t support killing fully-formed fetuses,” “People who don’t like short-tempered people,” “People who don’t want any trouble with Russia,” “People who like honesty,” “People who want transparency,” and “People who want peace.” It’s a problematic list.
But the first group told not to support Hillary is “Gay people,” which is followed by various clips of Clinton expressing her one-man-one-woman-marriage opinions, many of which were from the 2008 Democratic primary.
I don’t mean to shock anyone, but this is not the first time queer people have heard these sentiments expressed by politicians. It’s important to remember that the Democratic Party didn’t officially support marriage equality until 2012; gay people are used to having to take a pragmatic approach to politics, because for a long time, that was the only way we could hope to have a seat at the table.
We’re used to sharing a country (and, until recently, a party) with people who don’t like us, and while I don’t pretend to speak for all LGBT people, it’s a bit rich to be told in 2008 to take a compromise position, and then be told off in 2016 for choosing not to support the idealist candidate.
My spidey-sense tells me this particular video’s origin is somewhere on the right, but I've had plenty of posts in my feed from Bernie supporters about Hillary’s “bad record” with on gay marriage (and Bernie’s better record). Most of the arguments contained an air of How could you possibly support her?
There are two answers to this question, and Dan Savage gave the first one on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week:
“She wasn’t always good on gay marriage, but neither was Barack Obama…When you go to somebody, go to a politician, and you say, ‘Please change your mind,’ when they change their mind, you don’t then spend the rest of their lives going, ‘F*ck you for not changing your mind sooner!’ You say, ‘Welcome to the right side of this issue, we’re glad to have you.’”
Savage is 100% correct here, and being magnanimous about it, which in pragmatic terms is exactly the right reaction: supporters of LGBT rights shouldn’t be arbitrating how we got to a place where marriage equality is a nationally recognized Constitutional right, we should be celebrating it and focusing on the next battle (moronic bathroom laws or employment and housing discrimination, for instance).
The other answer, however, accesses a deeper question in the larger Hillary/Bernie tension that has roiled Democrats for the past year: isn’t Hillary just a fairweather progressive? How can you even compare the brightly burnished liberal credentials of Senator Sanders with the shifting, changing positions of Secretary Clinton?
To answer that, we need to take a trip back to 2008. Growing up in a liberal culture bubble between San Francisco and New York, the 2008 primary was the first election I experienced where my friends and family split over whom to support. The Obama fever in my Facebook feed was strong, and I had to do some real soul-searching over who to support.
I ended up supporting Hillary, largely because though I admired Obama’s conciliatory, bi-partisan rhetoric, I wanted someone who was going to twist the GOP’s arm until they said “uncle”. When I made my Hillary-support known, I had two (straight) friends try and stage Hillary-interventions with me. “How could you possibly support her over Obama?” they asked, bewildered.
I gave my answer about GOP arm-twisting, and when Hillary ultimately conceded, I enthusiastically supported Obama (and looked on in horror at Sarah Palin). When Election Day rolled around, I was as excited as everyone else in Brooklyn when Obama was declared the winner.
Well, almost as excited. At the Election Party I was at, while people popped champagne open, me and the only other queer person there, a friend of a friend named Mary, kept watching the TV, because there were a couple more results we were interested in: Proposition 8 in California, but also similar marriage bans in Arizona and Florida, as well as Arkansas’ Act 1, which banned gay couples from adoption.
While people partied in the streets, Mary and I watched as, one by one, these four anti-LGBT election measures passed. Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe the disparity of my feelings. My fellow Queer Americans and I had been asked to put our values (and, frankly, our dignity) on hold so that the politicians of the Democratic Party could court the center of the electorate. And we’d been willing to do it, but it still chafed.
This is a roundabout way of explaining that, for many gay people in 2008, we were forced (shoved, even) to the “pragmatic” end of the pragmatism/idealism spectrum. And that was fine, especially when we were looking at the alternative. I shared the sentiment with friends that I figured Obama probably privately supported marriage equality, and that we were playing the long game, a long game that ended up panning out (though I credit Vice President Biden with that policy shift more than President Obama).
But for me, that swallowing of the bitter pill of 2008—of needing to vote for someone who didn’t support marriage equality—reinforced my notion of politicians as pragmatists, not idealists. This was one of the reasons why I had trouble supporting Obama in the first place: if he was the idealist candidate and one of his positions was that he didn’t think I should be able to marry the person I love, wasn’t I betraying my own ideals by voting for him? Didn't I have to view him as a pragmatist in order to square him with my own beliefs?
Hillary has many faults, but I’ve never seen her pragmatism (and, okay, lack of idealism) as one of them. She’s a divisive political animal created by a divisive political system, and I have no problem understanding why people on the Left wouldn’t want to support her.
What I can’t abide are people who’ve never had to humble themselves before a voting booth telling me and my fellow LGBT Americans that we don’t know our own best interests. It’s just as condescending as people on the left talking about how misled African-American voters are for supporting her.
Everyone should vote their conscience, but I hope that, come November, that conscience takes into consideration the full political picture of a country that is closely divided, especially when there is hate on one side of that division. There is a place for idealism, and even revolution, in our current political conversation. But when the stakes are this high and the consequences this dire, the only thing as poisonous as absolutism is that other a-word: apathy.